Saturday, April 27, 2024

Amy Shearn

Amy Shearn is the award-winning author of the novels Unseen City, The Mermaid of Brooklyn, and How Far Is the Ocean From Here. She has worked as an editor at Medium, JSTOR, Conde Nast, and other organizations, and has taught creative writing at NYU, Sackett Street Writers Workshop, Gotham Writers Workshops, Catapult, Story Studio Chicago, The Resort LIC, and the Yale Writers' Workshop. Shearn's work has appeared in many publications including the New York Times Modern Love column, Slate, Poets & Writers, Literary Hub, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Coastal Living. She has an MFA from the University of Minnesota, and lives in Brooklyn with her two children.

Shearn's new novel is Dear Edna Sloane.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think this title is the most straightforward of all my book titles – it’s an epistolary novel which begins with someone trying to reach, and therefore writing to, Edna Sloane. It’s also the title the book had the whole time, from before I started drafting all the way to publication, which is rare for me – most of my books have their titles changed at some point!

What's in a name?

I liked the idea of creating a kind of totally exaggerated, fantasy alter-ego for myself, and so from the start I wanted my protagonist to have a name that echoed the structure of mine, thus the two-syllable first name (Amy/Edna) and one-syllable last name (Shearn/Sloane). I also liked the idea of her having one name that sounds quite old-fashioned (Edna, a grandmotherly name that perhaps only on Edna St Vincent Millay has ever seemed sexy) and one that sounds quite contemporary (Sloane, which as a first name has an androgynous, cool-girl sound to it, I feel).

Edna Sloane and the other protagonist, Seth Edwards, have names that are sort of mirrored versions of each other. When the novel was first forming, I was thinking about Mrs Dalloway, and how the two main characters (who never meet) are kind of foils of each other and also represent two parts of the same mind. In a way, Edna and Seth really are two parts of the writer’s self.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think not at all, really. She might be surprised by other books I’ve written, actually, but this one feels very close to the core of who I’ve always been: obsessed with the written word; playful with form; a little artsy, a little funny, a little crabby, a little optimistic. And the fact that it’s published by an indie press, with a gorgeous weird painting on the cover by one of my favorite artists of all time, would have really pleased her little 90’s soul.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Oh endings for sure. Though I think what changes most is usually the middle. Middles are terrible.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

For this book, I see a lot of myself in the characters for sure. Seth is in some ways my young writer-self, if she’d had less of a filter – the hunger, the yearning, the impatience, the jealousy. I also have been in the trenches, like Seth, of working in digital media and feeling like I was at once so close and so far away from my dreams of writing novels. And Edna is kind of, as I mentioned, a fantasy alternate self – I’ve never had that runaway success she has in her writing life, so it was fun to imagine its highs and lows. But also, she’s a kind of writer’s fantasy in general – the writer who doesn’t have to share any of her self besides her writing, whose books kind of sell and promote themselves.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My friends, and the conversations we have about life, love, work, parenting, the world, are hugely influential. Some of this comes from my training as an editor looking for interesting ideas – there’s that idea that, well if my smart friends are talking about something, maybe there’s a story there!

There have also been a few shows that have had perhaps outsized influences on me: Fleabag and Dickinson both really informed, I think, my next novel (Animal Instinct, comes out in 2025!), in style, voice, content, and story shape. I’m not sure it’s exactly influenced me, but frequently talk in my classes about the first episode of Mad Men, which I think has incredibly perfect story structure – not only does it have a wild twist, which is fun, it does everything a first chapter of a book should do, and tells you everything you need to know about the protagonist, though you don’t realize it at the time.

And I should also note that the work of Amy Cutler, one of my favorite living artists, has long been meaningful to me – her intricate, surreal portraits of women’s interiors make me feel how I want my books to make readers feel! I’m so grateful that one of her paintings is on the cover of this book. Truly a dream come true.
Visit Amy Shearn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue